The tightly wrapped rubber band dug into the 9-month-old puppy's snout for days.
It kept him from eating. Ripped through skin and muscle around his muzzle. Bore a large hole through the top of his snout, where the constant pressure ate away at weaker bones.
Veterinarians didn't know what to make of the abused dog's unusual injuries.
They didn't know if he would ever fully recover or what nerves might have been irreparably damaged.
Less than two months later, they have an answer:
Despite a small scar circling his snout and a tiny hole, Sox is one happy puppy.
And now he has a new family.
• • •
An alert schoolteacher first notified authorities about Sox.
Two students, both under 10, had told her they thought their puppy was dying slowly in their bathroom.
Their teacher called the SPCA Tampa Bay. An investigator went to the children's home on Dec. 12 and found the dog, his mouth clamped shut, covered in fleas and feces, a stinking wound on his muzzle. The owner seemed unconcerned, they said, but promised to take him to the vet.
The investigator came back the next day and the owner relinquished control to the SPCA.
The 18-pound Yorkshire terrier/poodle mix arrived for medical care. SPCA Tampa Bay veterinarian Rizal Lopez consulted with other surgeons.
"We hadn't seen a wound of this magnitude," he said. "We don't typically see rubber bands or strings tied (around the muzzle)."
It's much more common to see collar injuries like this, where the constant pressure from embedded chains, for example, tears away at the skin and muscle.
Sox's prognosis was uncertain.
• • •
Lori Chambers read of Sox's abuse toward the end of December and was heartbroken. Weeks later, the 51-year-old Largo woman still couldn't talk about the story without choking up.
She knew what needed to be done: Find Sox a good home.
"I was afraid that nobody would want him," Chambers said. "I couldn't let that happen."
So she and her daughter, Christina, 32, took action. They tracked his case online, filled out adoption papers and made calls to the SPCA. In early February, she learned that her family was one of three who would interview for the chance to adopt Sox. She, her husband, daughter, granddaughter and two dogs all went to the appointment. They finally met Sox.
"That was when I knew I didn't want him to go with anyone else," she said. "It was really hard leaving that meeting."
On Feb. 9, she got the good news over the phone. The next day, Sox moved in. Coincidentally, that same day, Sox's former owner was charged with animal cruelty.
• • •
Sox is mostly healed now.
Sometimes his snout itches where the small hole remains, but that just requires a little vitamin E, Chambers said.
The 11-month-old multicolored mix is energetic and sweet. He loves playing with his stuffed brown reindeer, often seen hanging from his mouth as he jogs about the house or lying next to him in his bed.
He has his moments of skittishness, Chambers said, especially when he hears barks or loud noises. But mostly he just wants to play.
"His personality is so alive," Chambers said. "He's just happy. We weren't expecting this. We thought it was going to be tough for him. It's almost like he has no clue what happened to him.
"He's just alive. He's vivid. He's very, very happy."
• • •
Sox's former owner, 32-year-old Tieesha Cogdell of Clearwater, was charged with first-degree misdemeanor animal cruelty about two months after the puppy was taken from her home.
Reached by phone Wednesday, she declined to comment. Her arraignment is set for Monday.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Danny Valentine can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8804.